Best Beaches in California

Monterey Bay

What exactly makes a beach one of the best beaches in California? Whether you prefer sand or rock, people or wildlife, sun or fog, the coastline of the Golden State has something for every taste. Heading south from the border of Oregon, the coastline provides a large variety of landscapes and wildlife. Meandering through rocky shores and sunbathing beaches, the California coastal region is broken into three distinct zones: northern, central, and southern. While the entire coast is classified as a Mediterranean climate with typically mild wet winters and dry warm summers, the average temperature and rainfall differs between the zones. An area like no other found in the United States, the beaches in California are some of the most popular destinations in the world. The following list defines some of the best beaches in California for their specific regions and coastal styles.

1. Monterey Bay

Monterey County, Central Coast

Monterey Bay is a protective beach harbor with strong historical significance. Part of the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, the nation's largest marine sanctuary, the coastline holds an expansive kelp forest which encourages a large variety of wildlife both in and out of the water. There are few places in the world where you can enjoy a nice walk on acres of sand and dunes, while also observing animals such as sea otters, seals, seabirds, butterflies, and even whales. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, located next to John Steinbeck's famous Cannery Row, is rated number one in the United States.

2. Venice Beach

Southern California Coastline, near the Los Angeles area

If the wildlife species you enjoy watching the most is Homo sapiens, then Venice is the beach for you. From fire eaters to tarot card readers, to the movie-portrayed Muscle Beach fitness equipment, it has something for all. Established as a beach resort in 1904, it is a wide and sandy beach with rows of shops, restaurants, playgrounds, restrooms, all only a stones throw away from the sand. A wide paved bike path runs the length of the beach and beyond, providing beachfront access to strollers, bikes, skates, and wheelchairs. A world renowned tourist attraction, Venice is an easy pick for the best beaches in California.

3. Santa Cruz Beach & Boardwalk

Central California Coast, west of Silicon Valley

An authentic amusement park awaits you at Santa Cruz Beach & Boardwalk. Even if a thrill-ride on one of the best historic all-wood roller coasters, the 1924 Giant Dipper, isn't enough to draw you in, then certainly the mile-long stretch of a wide, sandy beach oasis should be a nice retreat from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind. The boardwalk is alive with old time charm, offering many stairways down to take a turn on the sand. The ocean is calm and perfect for swimming activities.

4. Santa Monica

Due west of Los Angeles' most posh neighborhoods

Santa Monica is one of southern California's first beach resort communities, established in 1872. The now fully-restored Santa Monica Pier juts out from the extremely long and wide sandy beach line. The area offers many facilities and entertainment options, from the historic amusement park to the ample supply of beachfront restrooms, playgrounds, picnic areas, and volleyball nets, all under the watchful eyes of paid lifeguards. A popular beach for surfers, it also incorporates an extensive bike trail for all types of wheels.

5. Big Sur

Part of the scenic byway of Hwy 1, Central Coast

Take a romantic horseback ride along the sandy shoreline, or enjoy the amazing beauty of the beachfront Redwoods; whichever your pleasure, Big Sur can provide it. The original home of literary icon Henry Miller, this rustic beach embraces some of the most beautiful country in our nation. Whale vistas, white sandy beaches, rock arches, spectacular waves, and majestic trees all frame an ocean sparkling like jewels. Big Sur is certainly a gem.

6. Long Beach

Southern California Coast, between Los Angeles and San Diego

Long Beach is the place for heat. While most of the rest of the California coastline escapes any type of tropical heat, Long Beach is known for it. With an average of fifteen days above 90 degrees, it is one of the warmest beaches in California due to the south-facing shore alignment. The beach has drawn more attention in recent years, thanks to major improvements. The vamped up Long Beach Aquarium now includes over 550 species of aquatic life. The wide sandy beach, with many roadside access points, is known for water play with very little surf.

7. Point Reyes

A National Seashore in Marin County, Northern Coast

The Point Reyes area extends from the tip of the peninsula down around charming Bodega Bay. An area famous for whale watching, it offers expansive wide-open vistas. Bodega Harbor provides ocean fishing and sandy beaches with multiple walks and hiking. The Point Reyes historic lighthouse is open to the public and provides outstanding views for photographers and whale watchers alike. As one of eleven National Seashores in the United States, it is largely undeveloped, providing the visitor a pristine, natural beach habitat.

8. Mendocino

Northern Coast, Mendocino County

A city area founded with a New England influence, the charm and beauty still remain. Due to the strong influx of artists and amateur historians, the city is as picturesque as the coast. A coastline known for harsher weather, Mendocino's beaches actually take a break from the rough cliffs and rock to offer secluded beaches protected from the wind. The stream corridor leads out to a wide, sandy beach, known for its beauty both on the land and in the sea.

9. San Diego Beach Areas

Southern California Coast

The San Diego area is full of sandy beaches with milder waves, great for water play. Coronado is a mock island connected by a sand isthmus and arched bridge, home of the historic landmark 1888 Hotel del Coronado, and a ritzy exclusive community. Or visit one of the most expansive, but rocky, shorelines at La Jolla, a seven mile stretch of sublime coastline. San Diego is an outstanding winter vacation hub with warmer than average temperatures year round than most of the rest of California's coast.

10. San Clemente

Orange County, Southern California Coast

For a city beach, this is known as one of the best by Moon Handbooks. Including both a city beach area, complete with rows of homes, and a mile long State Beach, complete with camping and day use, there is every opportunity to enjoy surfing, fishing, and beach play. Made famous due to Nixon's "Western White House" built along the shore, it is a quick escape or day trip from most southern California areas.

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Best Beaches in California